Restrictive Covenant (6-15-1937)

In the spring of 1937, Carl Hansberry purchased a three-flat at 6140 South Rhodes Avenue, just south of Washington Park.  He moved in with his family on the morning of June 15.  The trouble started that evening.

Hansberry, his wife, and their children were sitting in the living room with some friends.  Two bricks smashed through the front window.  No one was hurt.  The police were called, and they posted a guard around the property.

6140 S. Rhodes Ave.

6140 S. Rhodes Ave.

Carl Hansberry was a black man moving into an all-white neighborhood.  In those times, in many parts of America, that was enough to provoke violence.

African Americans were already living north and west of the park.  None had moved into the area to the south.  Two days after the attack on his home, six of Hansberry’s new neighbors filed suit against him for $100,000 in the Circuit Court of Cook County.  He was accused of engaging in a conspiracy to violate a restrictive covenant.

A restrictive covenant is a clause in a contract that requires one party to do–or refrain from doing–certain things.  When the previous owner had purchased the Rhodes three-flat, the contract said the building could only be resold to whites.  Racial restrictions like these were common then.
Hansberry was a real estate broker and political activist.  He decided to fight the restrictive covenant in court.  Meanwhile, hostile mobs continued to gather outside his home.  Mrs. Hansberry often spent the night patrolling the property with a loaded pistol.

The Circuit Court ruled against Hansberry, ordering his family to move.  The decision was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.  Again the restrictive covenant was upheld.  The only place left to go was the United States Supreme Court.

Anna M. Lee was one of the white signers of the restrictive covenant.  Now the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Hansberry v. Lee.  In an unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of Hansberry on November 13, 1940.

"Chicago Defender"--11-16-1940

“Chicago Defender”–11-16-1940

The Hansberry decision is considered a civil rights landmark.  However, the Supreme Court had only ruled on the merits of this particular case.  Racial restrictive covenants were finally declared unconstitutional in 1948.

Carl Hansberry did not see that day.  He died in 1946.

Hansberry’s youngest daughter, Lorraine, later became a celebrated writer.  She was 7 years old when the family moved into the Rhodes three-flat.  Her most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, was partly based on her childhood experiences there. The building at 6140 South Rhodes Avenue is privately owned. 

—30—

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1 Response to “Restrictive Covenant (6-15-1937)”


  1. 1 Garry June 16, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Kenilworth deeds still have illegal, restrictive covenants barring Jews or blacks from living there.
    There are people who have been trying for years to get them permanently removed from the records, so the illegal covenants don’t show up anymore, but they get nowhere in this state’s corrupt legislature.
    The number of Jews currently in Kenilworth, could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.


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